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Dog attacks – enough is enough

In April 2007, the Burra Community was shocked to hear that seven alpacas were attacked and killed by two "hunting" dogs. The owner of the Alpacas, Nerida Hart, told her story to the ABC rural reporter, and was published the ABC Rural Report website.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that local residents have had their stock chased, maimed and killed by domestic dogs. Stock owners have had the distressing experience of finding whole flocks of sheep attacked and new-born calves attacked and killed or left for dead by marauding domestic dogs. Farmers have reported finding sheep suffocated, trampled in the corner of the paddock by other sheep in the flock attempting to flee a dog that is chasing them.

As the population of Burra and Urila increases, so does the number of domestic dogs and many of these will become a menace to other landholders. Some landholders have coped by ceasing to run sheep – which are particularly vunerable to dog attack – and have switched to cattle. This is a costly exercise since many farmers have invested in infrastructure to support sheep farming (sheds, yards, races) and have spent many years – sometimes a working lifetime – building up a sheep farming business.

Recent attacks in Burra would suggest that even large animals are under threat from domestic dogs. A horse in London Bridge Road was chased and brought down by two large, roaming dogs in 2006. The aged gelding was then savaged and killed by the dogs. In July 2007, another alpaca from Little Burra Road, was killed by two dogs. The alpaca's owner spotted the dogs on his property, but the attack was so swift he was unable to save his alpaca.

Most owners understand their obligations to keep their dogs under control, but many do not. It only takes a few.

Under the Companion Animals Act 1998, dog owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under control at all times.

In May 2007, B.U.R.R.A. distributed information about dog attacks. The information "Oh no … not my dog", is reproduced here, and is available in a printable, PDF version (340 kb).

Oh no … not my dog!

According to one of the world’s leading experts on animal behaviour, Temple Grandin PhD, just because your “Fluffy” is the cutest, sweetest-natured little mutt when he’s around you and your family, he isn’t automatically going to be the same, harmless creature when he gets out and about. Why? Read on…

My dog isn’t capable of attacking anything!

According to Grandin, all dogs are capable of being killers. Furthermore, the predatory instinct is actually hard-wired into their brains. The carnage done to the alpacas [pictured on the previous page] might suggest a frenzied rage on the part of an inherently vicious animal. However, dogs DON’T have to be ‘angry’ to attack. Research has found that predators, including dogs, enjoy the kill, and enjoy having their predatory killing circuits turned on. Experiments show that they will turn the circuits on themselves if you teach them how.

My dog isn’t interested in stalking or hunting!

Not all dogs are equally motivated to hunt prey down and kill it. For example, if you have two dogs, Grandin says, you might find that one of them is more motivated to hunt and kill than the other. But all dogs have the predatory hunting pattern hard-wired into their brains, and this can sometimes be stimulated by rapid movements. In the case of people, the rapid movement that stimulates an attack can be falling down, bending over suddenly, or dropping a tool. Toddlers are especially prone to making the sort of rapid movements that stimulate the predatory sequence. Farm animals moving in a paddock can also trigger the attack.

My dog wouldn’t know how to kill another animal!

Many prey animals, including dogs, bite the prey and then shake it to kill it, or, if the prey is too large, they bite the neck and hold on until the prey (someone’s sheep, alpaca or horse) collapses and sometimes dies of suffocation. The “killing bite” is another hard-wired behavioural sequence that all dogs are born with, and is also known as the “quiet bite” because it isn’t done in a state of rage, but is actually part of an instinctual behavioural sequence.

The injuries sustained by the victim in these attacks can be horrific.

“Each individual member of a species is born knowing how to perform the killing bite, and each individual member of a species performs the killing bite in the same way” says Grandin.

Grandin stresses that, “left to their own devices, dogs can become dangerous to other dogs, to cats, and to humans, and you can easily train a dog to be hideously ferocious if that’s what you want”.

My dogs know it’s wrong to attack!

The answer, says Grandin is socialisation. You have to teach a puppy that your two year old, or your sheep, or your horse are not prey.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to teach dogs that NO toddler, NO sheep, and NO horse, is prey, because, Grandin says, dogs DO NOT generalise. They can’t automatically go from knowing that, because it’s wrong to attack YOUR children, alpacas or sheep, it’s wrong to attack ALL children, alpacas and sheep.

“A puppy doesn’t automatically generalise don’t-attack-Johnny to don’t-attack-Joey” says Grandin.

I still don’t believe my dog could do such a terrible thing!

Still not convinced “Fluffy” could be responsible? Grandin’s work is supported by an Australian study of 1,400 dogs that attacked livestock. The study, reported in a Canadian Government Factsheet, found most of the dog owners, when approached by authorities, refused to believe their dog could have killed or injured any sheep. They believed their dogs were too small, too young or too friendly to harm sheep.

My dog is the wrong breed/sex/age to attack!

The researchers caught dogs from 3 months to 12 years of age, intact and sterilized dogs of both sexes, purebred and mongrel, all attacking livestock. Most of these dogs were well fed, friendly, family pets, running at large. Selective breeding has not suppressed the tendency of any breed of dog to attack and kill livestock. Animal behaviourists say it is not possible to predict whether a particular dog will attack sheep or not.

My dog goes out alone, he isn’t in any pack!

People often think that roving packs of dogs cause most livestock predation problems. It’s true that dogs in a pack can be much more aggressive than one dog on its own. However, of the 1,400 dogs caught or observed attacking livestock in the Australian study; 40% of attacks were by single dogs, 51% of attacks by a pair of dogs — usually a male and a female, and just 9% were by 3 or more dogs.

So, while “Fluffy” might be a treasured family pet who appears to be harmless to YOUR livestock, he isn’t necessarily going to be harmless when it comes to other people’s.

Where’s the harm in the dog killing a few animals? He’s just having a bit of fun!

Attacks on pets, livestock and wildlife are emotionally traumatising and can be financially devastating. Even if they recover from the horrible trauma of being stalked and mauled by a predator, surviving animals usually do not do well. Pregnant females may abort and injured animals endure pain and must be treated. Their owners must spend time and money to treat attacked animals and to prevent future attacks.

You are legally responsible for your dog's actions

Stop your dog roaming and keep your dog under control at all times.

references:

Animals in Translation, (2005), Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Bloomsbury.

Factsheet 8/02, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

›› Download a PDF version of Oh no...not my dog (340 kb)

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Last updated: 25 September, 2007

© 2007 Burra Urila Residents and Ratepayers Association Inc